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Foundations of Project Management

20 October, 2012 | Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D. | Project Management

Every organization must perform project management according to the accepted principles and using the approved processes and procedures to enable successful results.

Introduction

Every day, organizations are asked to accomplish activities that do not align into the “business as usual” format.  The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service, with a desired completion date.”  Projects are unique, specific, have multi-disciplinary teams, and are expected to meet desired completion dates.  It may take weeks, months, or even years to complete a project fully, since projects can be complex.

Projects also involve some level of conflict, because of their temporary nature, their unique product or service delivery, and their use of multi-disciplinary teams.  Often, the project schedule, budget, and specifications clash with one another; the needs of the clients and the less-involved stakeholders may not be aligned, and the team members may not work well together.

Project management is different from general management, largely because projects are not “business as usual” and do not conform to the daily routine of organizations.  The balances required in conflict resolution, scheduling, budgeting, specifications description, and requirements alignment mean that the Project Manager (PM) must have superior communication and negotiation skills in addition to professional project management skills.  General managers usually do not deal with many exceptions; project managers face exceptions continually.

Goals of Project Management

The performance of any project is measured by three (3) criteria: Is the project on time (or early)?  Is the project on or under budget?  Does the project meet the agreed specifications / requirements to the client’s satisfaction?  Figure 1 shows the classic Project Management Triangle, representing the three goals of project management, against which all projects and project managers are measured.

foundations-of-project-management-1

Figure 1: Project Management Triangle – Three Criteria for Project Success

Time: The project is delivered according to schedule, based on the project plan’s deadlines that were agreed to by the stakeholders (client), the project manager, and team members.  Some projects are worthless if not delivered on time.  In the mid-1990’s, for example, ecommerce companies that were slow to getting their services online found their market share taken by those who had arrived earlier.

Cost: The project meets forecasted cost estimates.  Projects are investments for the organization, and projects that run over budget can cost the company more than the value they earn.

Scope: The project satisfies the agreed requirements / specifications for functionality and performance, as defined by the client stakeholders.  Requirements are described in business language, while specifications are written, often, in some form of technical language.

Quality: The final product must be of sufficient quality, to meet the required specifications for functionality and performance.  According to Philip Crosby, quality is “conformance to requirements.”  In the project management context, quality refers to the outcome of the project, based on the three triangle components.  If one of the components is reduced, quality is sacrificed.  To deliver the same quality at the same scope in a shorter period than originally agreed will cost more.

 

Managing Project Expectations

Sometimes, delivering a project on time, on budget, according to requirements with high quality does not mean that the project was a success.  Why does this happen?  There are many reasons; the most common one is the lack of understanding between the stakeholders and the project manager.  Stakeholders may have unrealistic expectations for costs, for resource capabilities, for schedules, and for requirements.  However, they are the final arbiters of the success of the project, so project managers must manage expectations before the start of any project.

1.) Set realistic expectations for the Time-Cost-Scope-Quality criteria with all project stakeholders as soon as project discussions start.

2.) Understand and communicate all resource needs and capabilities clearly to all stakeholders and to all project team members.  Do not expect skilled people or sources of funds to appear suddenly to solve project issues.  Know what is needed, when it is needed, why it is needed and how it will be used.

3.) Manage all expectations throughout the project with all stakeholders.  Communication is a required skill for all project managers.  If the Time-Cost-Scope-Quality criteria change, everyone should know about the change and accept the new criteria.

4.) Revise the project plan to be aligned with the new Time-Cost-Scope-Quality criteria.

Project Management Functions

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Figure 2: Three Functions of Project Management

The functions in project management are sequential; a project must begin with definition, proceed to planning, and move to control.  Additionally, the functions are repeated many times, since planning will lead to modifications in the definition, and controlling actions will require changes to planning and occasionally to definition aspects.  During a project, a project manager may spend time every day engaged in all three functions of one project.

Each function has artifacts that result from the activities, commonly called “deliverables.”  Some common artifacts in projects include: project charter, project scope document, project plan, project resource plan, project budget, project risk assessment, project change management plan, project status report, project issues log and tracking report, etc…

Project Life Cycle

A project life cycle represents the linear progression of a project, from defining the project, creating the plan, executing the work, through closing out the project.

Projects are broken down into phases so that extra control can be applied to effectively manage the processes.  These phases are further divided into subsets for easy management, control, and planning.

For a project to be successful, the project team must:

  • Select the appropriate processes to meet project goals and objectives.
  • Use a defined approach focused on meeting the requirements of the project.
  • Clearly define and agree upon stakeholder/customer needs and expectations.
  • Balance the competing demands of scope, time, cost, quality, resources, and risk to produce the specified product, service, or result.

The Project Life Cycle has been divided into 4 phases:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Closure

Each phase has activities associated with it.  Each activity has an activity definition, guidelines and may have plan templates.  These components facilitate the activities performed by the Project Manager.

The number of activities recommended depends upon the scope and duration of the project.  A basic project may use only a few of these activities while a major project could involve all the activities in the framework.

Each phase is detailed below:

foundations-of-project-management-3

Figure 3: Project Life Cycle Phase Descriptions

The importance of every phase of the project lifecycle cannot be over-emphasized.  Although initiation and planning usually represent about 10-20 % of the total effort on any project (execution represents approximately 70%), the first two phases are essential to preparing the project team for efficient performance and the successful execution of the project’s activities.  Additionally, it is important to formally close every project, so that all activities are completed, that the customer’s satisfaction has been recorded, and that all issues and lessons have been documented to improve on future projects.

Program versus Project Management

Program management is the process of managing several related projects with the intention of improving an organization’s performance in delivering successful projects.  According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), “A Program is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated manner to obtain benefits and control NOT available from managing them individually.  Programs may include elements of related work outside of the scope of the discrete projects in the program.  Some projects within a program can deliver useful incremental benefits to the organization before the program itself has completed.”

Program management emphasizes the coordinating and prioritizing of resources across projects, managing links between the projects and the overall costs and risks of the program.

Program management provides a layer above the management of projects and focuses on selecting the best group of projects, defining them by their objectives, and providing an environment where projects can be run successfully.  Program managers should not micromanage, but should leave project management to the project managers.  However, program management should address the dependencies, conflicts and resource or knowledge sharing among the projects it manages.

Common themes between program and project management include:

  • Multiple Projects:  A program consists of a series of related and possibly interdependent projects that meet an overarching objective.
  • Planning:  Any program or project requires planning.  A project has its own schedule, its own milestones.  A program may entail coordination with and among the projects; scheduling the projects across the program must be considered.
  • Monitoring:  Management must monitor progress, issues, and risks, regardless of whether they are at the project level, or the program level.  Program management entails monitoring at a higher level.
  • Reporting:  As with monitoring, there must be reporting at both the project and the program level.  Program management consolidates the reports from component projects comprising the program for its reporting to higher-level management.
  • Budget:  In some organizations, projects are responsible for their own budgets but often, the project manager is working against tasks and deadlines, with budgets that were set at higher levels.  Many have an inclusive budget across all the projects within the program.

Project Management Office

A Project Management Office (PMO) is a group or department within an organization that defines and maintains standards for project management within the organization.

The primary goal of a PMO is to achieve benefits from standardizing and following project management policies, processes and methods.  Eventually, a PMO will become the source for guidance, documentation, and metrics related to the practices involved in managing and implementing projects within the organization.  Also, a PMO may become involved in project-related tasks and pursue project activities through completion to support individual project teams.  Generally, the office reports on project activities, problems and requirements to executive management as a strategic tool to ensure that practitioners and decision makers are moving toward consistent, business- or mission-focused goals and objectives.

A PMO generally bases its project management principles, practices and processes on an industry standard methodology such as PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge).

Project Management Best Practices

There are numerous best practices for successful project management, spanning every aspect of the field.  Most practitioners learn these practices through a combination of work experience and certification / education.  The Project Management Institute provides the premier certification in the project management field, the Project Management Professional (PMP).

Some best practices in project management would include:

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Figure 4: Some Best Practices in Project Management

Conclusion

Project management is a complex discipline, with many facets.  A thorough study requires attention and focus, and its practice has shown to be extremely valuable to all organizations for many years.

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